Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration Part 11 Why is it wrong to blame the victim?

Theme-Worldbuilding Integration
Part 11
 Why is it wrong to blame the victim?
Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Index to previous 10 posts in this series:

How do you know when a "world" depicted in a novel you are reading is advocating "blaming the victim?"

It makes your skin crawl? It makes your mouth purse up in distaste?
 What reaction do you have to a "world" (an alien civilization, a bit of humanity trying to colonize some hostile world, Ancient History on Earth, Alternate Reality) where the law, customs, unconscious assumptions, and traditions are built around the idea that blame rests with the victim?

How do you know when you've built such a provision into some Alien Civilization you are creating to house your Romance?

We live in a world that still does "blame the victim" but about half the people vigorously oppose any hint of blaming the victim.

Hence we have political furor over things like Illegal Immigrant kids dragged here by their parents (who may or may not have been legitimate refugees, or honest folks seeking work to survive) now grown and really Americans, some of the best among us, but denied citizenship. Are they "victims?"  Do we blame kids for what their parents did?

What about the kids of people planning to put a suicide vest on the kid and send him into a crowd to detonate?  Why would a parent EVER do that?  (Character motivation in that question is thematic.)

And in a High Drama (Pluto driven) case like that, which one is the "victim?"  The child?  The parent who was "brainwashed" or inducted into some Cult that "believes in" suicide?  The people in the crowd who were killed or traumatized?

How do you look at a complex situation -- with a "backstory" embedded in it -- and decide which Character is the victim and which is the instigator?

Whose story is it?

Do Victims make good Hero material for a writer?

All Main Characters, Viewpoint Characters, have to be the individual whose decisions are causing things to happen in their world.  The Events don't have to be world shaking, but they have to have 'consequences' because consequences create the plot.

Remember, plot is the "because line" -- Hero does this - which causes that, because that happened, Adversary does that, which causes this, because this happened, Hero must do something, because of that something, other things happen.  Because -- Because is the glue that connects scenes in a logical sequence all readers can understand.

All novels are Rube Goldberg devices, just like our real world.

If you don't think so, just spend 15 minutes watching Presidential Politics, and think again.

The typical TV Series or feature film is much more simplified, just as a comic or graphic novel is simplified.  That's why TV or comics seem so "thin" or ludicrous or childish.  It is the same material you'd find in a whopping good Romance, but edited down, simplified, squashed into less space.

Real life is a Rube Goldberg device -- a super-complicated way of doing super-simple things.

Complication makes it difficult to look at a real situation and determine which actor is the instigator and which the victim.

There are certain scenarios where we make instant assumptions about which is the Underdog, which is the Good Guy, which is the Victim.

Remember last week's post on Theme-Plot Integration titled Affairs of State (discussing Star Wars: The Force Awakens) discussed Blaming the Victim, and whether Rey is Hero material.  We touched on the depiction of Good and Evil, and how Evil always wins while Good can only "contain" Evil.

Can a Victim become a Hero?

If a Victim becomes a Hero, do they carry the Blame with them?

These are thematic issues, and no two writers will answer those questions the same way.  A usable novel theme will be an answer, not the answer, and the Main Character(s) will have to choose one of several answers the writer "plants" in the plot Events.

When building a World, a writer has to build more than one Character.  Usually, whether depicted or not, the entire World is a shadowy presence behind and around the Characters.

Much of a Character's motivation comes from the unconscious assumptions his/her upbringing has inculcated.  Much of the process of "maturing" (going from Victim which every Child is, to Hero which every Adult is), is about Guilt becoming Responsibility.

Consider what you know of the psychology of the abused child.  Even a child who is not abused experiences the feeling of being abused.  Not being master of your own destiny, not having any way to assert your own decisions and make your world behave the way you want it to behave, puts you in the position of "Victim."

There's a more abstract, maybe spiritual, way of describing that position represented by Childhood.  You can call it being on the negative pole of the transaction.

In the math of Electricity, Fluid Dynamics, even Newtonian Mechanics, processes go from Here to There -- the world and the universe have a 'direction.'  The point where a process originates is called the Positive Pole and the destination where the process completes is called the Negative Pole.

This is a model which is so generalized that a writer can apply it to modeling any World -- Alien, Human, Historical, Dead Galactic Civilization.

For practice, just look around at the real world. Identify processes, and identify the poles.

Remember in Star Trek, how Scotty would struggle with a problem, then declare, "Reversing Polarity!" and bam, the problem is solved.

You can apply this model of Polarities to all novel plots, to magical processes, to the power politics of Ancient Aristocracy and to modern democracies.

"Power" -- like Electrical or Mechanical -- is static, building and building or slowly leaching away.  Or it is dynamic, flowing from one point to another point.

Political Power does that.  Social Power, Wealth, Prestige, any kind of abstract human-created Power behaves like that -- positive pole to negative pole.

There is the saying, "It is more Blessed to Give than to Recieve."  Which says it is better to be on the Positive Pole than the Negative Pole.

Frankly, personally, I don't believe that and discussed that issue in a previous entry:


You can take any answer to the question of whether Giving or Receiving is 'better' and craft a theme out of that answer, then build a world where that answer is a reliable touchstone for deciding what to do in various circumstances.

When you build a world around a particular theme, you do need to create a "society" or more than one, that your Hero and Villain, or Protagonist and Antagonist, belong to.

This means you have to deal with issues of how Groups form, arise to dominance, and dissipate, in that World.

For example, in our world today, we assign each individual to be a member of a "Group" of some sort -- Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Generation, Child, Adult, Teen, Illegal Immigrant, Refugee, Invader, Educated, Rich, Poor, Middle Class (BTW always remember the USA does not have "Classes" as part of the social structure, so if you write about them you must explain in detail).

We all know that any given individual we meet must be a member of several such Groups.  For example: Black Female South African Rich Widow.

We often "Characterize" our Protagonist via the Groups he/she is a member of.  "Brilliant Street Orphan Pickpocket."  "Lazy Teen Party Girl."

We profile characters that way because real people in real life sort out everyone they know or see into categories like that.

That method of dealing with overwhelming heaps of data in complex arrays (e.g. the general public) is built into the analog functions of the human brain.  It is a shortcut that works (or used to, most of the time).  We classify the beasts of our jungle as predator and prey, so we know when to run and when to grab lunch.

Two of the categories pre-loaded into the human brain at birth are Predator and Prey -- or Victimizer and Victim -- or in general, Positive Pole to Negative Pole.

All human infants are born helpless.  And we scream a lot.

There is nothing more immediate, irritating, crazy-making to the adult human ear than the squall of a baby.  There are no words to that scream, but we know what it says.  We know what it feels like to need to make that sound.  Nobody remembers being that newborn, but our nerves still know.

It doesn't matter whether the infant is your own or not, you will try to make that cry stop.

Different people in different circumstances will do different things to cause the screaming baby to shut up.  But all will TRY.

We all have read the stories of new mothers beating their infant to death, smothering with a pillow, drugging them, throwing a newborn into the trash bin, drowning, -- there's no limit to human imagination. And reading those stories, we all wonder how anyone could do that.

Even if it is not your own baby, you wouldn't DO that - just not.

It is, however, well documented that sometimes a woman who has just given birth is "depressed" or otherwise in hormonal hell severe enough to attack the apparent source of the misery.  (or neglect the infant to death)

Think about your Alien Hunk that your Human has fallen in love with. Would an Alien comprehend this human behavior?  What would you write to explain it to him?

The Polarity model might be able to get the point across.

With an Adult vs. Screaming Infant transaction, the Power is all on the Adult side, right?  The Infant is on the negative pole of any transaction.

Is that how you see it?

Think hard.

When an Adult responds to an Infant Cry, who is 'calling the shots?'

Which side of that transaction is "in control."

Who is playing the tune that is being danced to?

All those quick questions are based on an assumption. Can you spot the assumption?

The assumption is rooted in the either/or model of Reality that we've discussed at great length in many posts here.

I just "gave you" two choices and told you to choose just one.

That zero-sum-game model of reality is the fundamental basis of what we call today Western Civilization.  It is not the only model of reality ever espoused on Earth by humans.  The Kabbalistic model of reality is totally different.  Zen, and many other philosophies don't use that either/or model.

Would your Aliens find the either/or model of reality "alien" to them?

So lets look at the Adult/Crying Infant transaction again.

The Polarity model of reality appears to describe the universe in an either/or zero-sum-game structure.  You are either on the Positive Pole (the Bully doing the acting) or the Negative Pole (the Victim being acted upon).

But the Polarity model allows for considerable "distance" between poles.  Energy flows from positive to negative, and a lot can happen in between.

And then there's Scotty reversing polarities.

In the case of the Screaming Infant, which "pole" the infant is on can be chosen by the Adult.  (what if your Alien Infant did the choosing, for example telepathically?)

The Adult can look at the Infant as a responsibility, and simply fulfill that responsibility with dispatch.

Or the Adult can allow the screaming sound to activate the unremembered "Helpless" condition of infancy, and FEEL that sound as an attack, feel victimized, put-upon, feel punished by that sound.  The response to being attacked is to counter-attack, or run, or destroy.

The objective of the victim is to get away, to MAKE IT STOP, or curl up and protect one's soft inner parts.

The Adult can respond to the infant's needs, and thus remain on the Positive Pole of the transaction.

Or the Adult can respond to the sound not the infant, to the irritation rather than to the needs of the other person, and thus adopt the position of Victim.

Whether you are a Victim or not depends on your Self Image more than on the Situation.

How prone you are to feeling Victimized when something awakens that unremembered position of Infancy depends on how strong and solid the transition from childhood to adulthood was.

It may also depend on individualistic personal traits, and on experiences in between.

So why is it "wrong" to "blame" the Victim?

If adult humans have a choice in any situation (even when being beaten, bullied, abused, brainwashed, etc) whether to adopt the Infancy position of being the Victim, why is it wrong to blame a person for adopting the position of Victim?

What would the world be like if there were no Adult Victims?  What if every recipient, every person on the Negative Pole of any transaction knew how to be the Negative Pole without being a Victim?

An Infant apparently can do it.  Most Adults will respond to an Infant's scream by feeding, cleaning, coddling, swinging, burping, caring gently for the Infant -- on the schedule the Infant chooses.

How many parents actually feel victimized by their infants?

Thus we live in a world of "alternating current" - where the one on the Positive Pole of a transaction is on the Negative then the Positive alternating until the transaction is complete.

We are "in conversation with" the Universe, with underlying Reality, back and forth.

Using the "wheels within wheels" model of the universe where the infinitely small is identical with the infinitely large, or where everything is composed of smaller particles, and those small particles are composed of even smaller ones etc., we can see that when building a world, a writer has to include this concept of every small thing belonging to a Group that composes a larger Group and so forth.

This is true of physical reality, and it is mirrored in social reality.

Thus every unique individual human belongs to Groups, usually many Groups.  And these Groups interact with one another along the Positive/Negative Pole axis, just as individuals do.

Groups interact with each other on the alternating current model, first one is Positive then the other is Positive.

Consider the Situation in the world today where children in school are "handled" as a Group by a Teacher (backed by ultimate Power in the school Administration).  If one of the students misbehaves, the entire class is punished -- even though few of them have any option for preventing the wild student from misbehaving.

We teach children to "blame the Group" for the behavior of an individual member of the Group.

Thus our Adults are conditioned to the idea that justice means "punish the innocent" to alter the behavior of the miscreant.

Therefore when an Adult becomes a voter and has to weigh in on public policy, the well-conditioned former-student will consider policies like "screening" all citizens to control the behavior of a few miscreants (who won't be deterred) justified.

So we spawn Groups like the TSA.  "All Air Passengers" are a Group.  A few might be miscreants.  The Group will not object when the entire Group is delayed, hassled, searched, stolen-from (yes, the TSA steals stuff, I've had it happen), and variously victimized by the Bully-Personalities that gravitate to such jobs.

Will this Group Punishment be any more effective than punishing a whole classroom full of students with extra homework because of one who speaks out of turn?

Do "All Air Passengers" have the power to prevent One Of The Group from carrying a dangerous object onto the plane? Or from using such an object?  Like a classroom full of children, they are all strangers to each other and have no power over each other.

Take cyber-security as another example. Some miscreant in another country perpetrates a crime against the Group Users Of Cyberspace.  All Users of Cyberspace are forthwith punished by having Legislators make a law forbidding members of the Group Users of Cyberspace from defending themselves with effective encryption technology.  Nobody objects to such bizarre practice because of that old classroom conditioning that the innocent are responsible for the behavior of the guilty.

THEME: Punishing the innocent will prevent the guilty from misbehaving again.

With children conditioned in the classroom to believe that justice and their own well being resides in punishing the whole class, it is no wonder that the Adults they grow into "feel safe" when all the passengers on a plane have been frisked, or all the audience at a concert have been searched.

One must, above all "feel safe."  It does not matter if you are safe. It only matters that you feel safe.  Face it, the action of instituting "screening" hoards of the innocent to prevent those bent on destruction from perpetrating destruction is ineffectual.

But as the twig is bent, so grows the tree. If whole classrooms are punished to get at the one guilty party, all members of that class have their emotional responses to future situations engraved on their subconscious minds. When a miscreant surfaces among a Group, the only solution that comes to mind is screen the entire Group.  We know nothing else because all the other solutions have been blocked from consciousness.

It is a little like learning a language natively. Each human language has a set of phonemes that carry meaning.  Learning the language natively means learning to block out of consciousness the tiny differences.  Those differences cause "accents."

For example, the words, Pin, Pen, and Pan are pronounced with very distinctive differences in some American English dialects, and absolutely the same in others.  Mary, Marry and Merry likewise sound different to some, and the same to others.

Solutions to basic problems work exactly the same way.

How you learn to solve problems gives you a problem-solving accent.  There is literally a set of thoughts that are as "unthinkable" as the "un-hearable" differences between those words.

To some people, the infant's scream opens the heart and looses a flood of love, caring, gentle kindness, and a need to soothe.  That's a problem solving technique - the problem is that the sound is unbearable and the solution is Love.

To other people, the infant's scream is an unbearable irritant that must be stopped at all costs, no matter what.  The problem solving technique is to focus on the urgency of stopping the irritation, rather than solving the infant's problem.

Just in an aside, here, I have to point out that up to about 3 months of age, an infant's hysteria can be soothed away by swaddling.  It works best with human hands. The technique is to wrap the infant's flailing arms in one hand, ans support the butt in the other, and rock back and forth.  This sends a counter-message of "safety" to the infant's brain, and works until the brain development gets to the point where other positions will work better.

This is also true for dogs. They now sell a kind of snug vest that will help an animal calm down during a lightening storm.

How you solve problems largely depends on your own self-image, your self-esteem.  A person who has high self-esteem but is also humble will spend most of the time during a problem solving session on the Positive Pole of the transaction.  A person who has low self-esteem and is prideful will spend most of the time on the Negative Pole of the transaction.

No given individual lacks Prideful moments, and even those of lowest self-esteem have magnificent moments of humility (where humility is defined as a ruthlessly accurate assessment of your own potential.)

Thus when you create an Alien Character, and confront the "What Does She See In Him?" question, and the "What Does He See In Her?" question,


...the answer is "it depends" -- because to be realistic, a Character has to oscillate between these polar opposites, just as real humans do.

All kinds of people (except maybe sociopaths?) will alternate rapidly from Positive to Negative -- giving and receiving -- spending most time around the middle, or slightly to one side or the other of the middle.  

Notice I keep saying receiving -- not "taking" but "accepting."  The Negative Pole is "accepting."  Trouble happens (e.g. victim-hood) when the Negative Pole of the transaction lacks selectivity about what to accept and what to reject.

If the problem is, "Find the Miscreant In This Group," these two problem-solving "accents" will go about it differently, just as they do when solving the problem of the irritating infant scream.

One type will insistently search for a way to separate the Miscreant without disturbing any member of the Group.

Another type will "default" to the routine problem solving method that his teachers "modeled" for him.

Both types will alternate behavior.

Just to make matters worse, other factors will come into play, enhancing or inhibiting problem solving until the two "types" are indistinguishable.

As a romance writer, you look for ways for Love to Conquer All, and a path to the Happily Ever After, no matter how incompatible the two types of problem solving may be.

This over-simplified description of human problem solving can be used to develop an Alien world and an Alien culture that is both recognizable to your human readers, and very Alien.

The trick is to observe Human Civilization from an Alien point of view.  Now have your human Character explain human behavior to your Alien.  None of that will go into the novel you write, but it will establish the Characters in your mind so that they will behave consistently during the story.

So, for example, your Alien asks, "Why is it wrong to blame the victim when it is impossible to tell which person is the actual victim?"

So you explain it, and the Alien asks, "So why do you punish the whole Group for the behavior of one miscreant?"

And you sputter, "But - but we don't!"

Explain that to an Alien from a species whose infants don't cry.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg


  1. "That's why TV or comics seem so "thin" or ludicrous or childish. It is the same material you'd find in a whopping good Romance, but edited down, simplified, squashed into less space."

    Not necessarily true nowadays, of course. Many comics and graphic novels have long, complex story arcs that last for years over dozens or scores of issues. Thanks to modern recording technology, TV shows can have complicated plotlines and character development with subtle details that reward multiple viewings -- which couldn't be done back when the assumption was that viewers would see any given episode only once, or maybe twice if they caught it in reruns.

  2. One of the points I try to make in this Tuesday blog series is the difference between plot and story. The TV 46 minute episode and the Comic (not graphic novel, but a few pages of pictures), simplify the STORY even when the PLOT is complex. Soap Opera does the opposite -- simplifies the PLOT even when the STORY is ridiculously complex. Bring them into balance, and you have great literature. I class C. J. Cherryh's Alliance-Union novels, particularly FOREIGNER SERIES, as Great Literature precisely because of the story-plot balance.